Advice on what to carry?Only what you need and no more. It is a process that takes time and experience to figure this out–which is part of the fun of it all. I have been riding bikes and adventuring long enough to know what I personally need to accomplish a certain objective. On my first ever bikepacking trip, I was woefully over prepared and hence probably suffered with the additional weight. Though as I tell my students, “It’s all training, so learn from it and don’t sweat the extra stuff. It is just making you stronger.” Today, I am pretty dialed in on what I carry which depends upon the environment I will be moving through, as well as what tools we will need to accomplish the adventure. For example, on the Brooks Range trip this past summer, in addition to the normal bikepacking equipment (i.e. frame bags, camping equipment, clothing, etc.), we had pack rafts, dry suits, paddles, etc., plus, 11 days of food. Whenever packing for such an endeavor, I lay out all of the gear that I think I may need and then start thinking about what I call “double duty”–what can serve dual or more purposes. Additionally, what is essential versus what is a luxury. The essential items must make their way into the gear bag, but luxury items are a choice that have to be weighed and considered on how they will affect the final outcome of the trip. It would be nice to have those extra socks or chamois, but one pair is all you really need–even if you are out for weeks at a time. That’s not to say I haven’t brought a small pillow or backpacked with a paco pad when I could afford carrying such luxuries. Like I said, “every adventure is training for me.” One essential for me is that in every sleeping bag is a pair of wool socks. It is always great to end the day with dry and warm feet. My “sacred” sleeping bag socks ensure that this is always the case.
Advice on what to eat?Again, each person needs to figure out what works for them depending upon the duration and energy output required for what they are doing. Take the time during your training rides to figure out what works for you. When I trained to race my first off-road 100 miler, I experimented with various gels, energy bars, etc., until I found what worked for me. I knew I was a little odd when at mile 80, my fellow competitors were all gathered around the table of energy bars, while I was standing alone gulping down slices of pepperoni pizza at the Domino’s Pizza table. For longer, multi-day affairs such as the Great Divide, I usually start the day off with dried fruit and a couple of packets of oatmeal. I will consume bites of energy bar throughout the day at regular intervals so that I am keeping my blood sugar and energy intake consistent throughout the day seeking to always keep the hunger monsters at bay. Lunch will usually consist of pepperoni, cheese, and some sort of cracker in a tortilla (with hot sauce, of course). Dinner is usually a one pot meal of instant potatoes, noodles or rice, with a top ramen chaser for salt replenishment as well as hydration. A little bit of dark chocolate with a nip of good ‘ole southern bourbon is a nice way to finish the day off. During the Brooks Range trip, we all ate freeze-dried meals (Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry, etc.) which believe it or not, was a first for me. These meals are relatively light and can pack a caloric punch, so they were essential for this type of trip where how much we carried (or not) could potentially have a say in the final outcome of the trip. The trade off with these meals is that they can be expensive relative to stuff you can find in a grocery store. But, I have to admit, they taste good.
Size, specs and species of your ride?As a Salsa rider, I am lucky to have a quiver of bikes in the garage for whatever the adventure calls for. The last couple of summers have been spent on predominantly fat tire bikes exploring seemingly unrideable terrain (Brooks Range, the interior of Iceland, the canyon country of the southwest) so a size large Salsa Mukluk or Blackborow has been my bike of choice for these explorations. I prefer things to be simple which means they can be repaired easily in the field if need be. For example, I prefer mechanical disc brakes versus hydraulics when attempting a committing ride. On the Divide, I road a fully rigid Fargo foregoing a full suspension bike such as the Spearfish. Less moving parts means less to brake and thus, less to fix in the field. Last year I did several amazing tours on a Ti El Mariachi set up with a 2 X 10. I love the ruggedness and the overall feel of this bike. It has become the workhorse of my stable that carries weight easily and shreds nearly any type of terrain. I am eager to check out the new 27.5+ rigs that are hitting the market now. These machines may be game changers when it comes to exploratory riding.
Thought on essential bike equipment?Find a saddle that works for you. There is nothing like an uncomfortable saddle to ruin or disrupt a trip. Take the time to test ride saddles and then break yours of choice in before embarking upon a grand adventure. Your enjoyment of the trip will depend upon how your rear end and other parts feel at the end of multiple days of riding. I have had good luck with both Brooks and WTB saddles, but I have taken the time to find what is right for me. With that said, find a bike that meets your needs and fits you. An incorrect fit will eventually make itself evident in the form of sore knees or numb hands and feet as a trip progresses. People have done far more with inferior bikes to what we have access to today, so it is all about finding what is right for you no matter if it is the latest and greatest or throwback to an age gone by. Lastly, I never leave home without some zip ties and some good duct tape. These items have saved the day/trip for me on more than one occasion.
Water purification method?I like things simple, so I always have iodine with me. You can easily purchase it from any pharmacy or grocery store and it is extremely effective in doing its job. It has a taste, but a little drink mix (gatorade, lemonade, etc.) can easily mask it. Additionally, I have recently started carrying a Steripen which is extremely convenient for being able to drink immediately without waiting for tablets or drops to do their thing. The pen is small and weighs little to nothing, and works really well in clear water. Though when drinking out of cow ponds or mud holes, iodine is the way to go.
Stove/fuel strategy?Again with the simplicity theme, I am a big proponent of the alcohol stove. I have used this type of stove on everything from the Divide to high altitude rides such as the Colorado Trail. In fact the first stove I made out of an Arizona Tea can over a decade ago is still functional, blasting out the BTUs. Occasionally, for international travel I have used an MSR Whisperlite International because of its ability to burn multiple fuel types. We used such a stove in Iceland, but could have gotten away with an alcohol stove.
Thoughts on essential gear for staying alive?The greatest asset you have for staying alive or dealing with the unexpected is your mind and your attitude. I have spent years developing a varied skill set and experience level to get where I am today. I have had my share of epics and “teachable” moments that I believe we all should experience. These experiences have taught me what I am capable of and how to remain calm and think when the proverbial dung hits the fan. We all want to do the next “great thing.” The important thing though is to slow down and be present in the process towards accomplishing that “great thing.” Slowly and over time we will gain the experience and insight to accomplish whatever it is we seek…which could mean staying alive in the face of a dire situation. As they say, “If you don’t have the experience or smarts, you better be tough.” Given some of the predicaments that I have found myself in, I like to think that I have both.
Favorite trail/bikepacking recommendations?
As you have probably figured out, I am not good at answering these types of questions. I have been fortunate to have traveled and ridden a bike in some amazing places on our planet. All of these adventures have begun with a map and some source of inspiration–whether it be a from another’s trip report, video or my own vision of what could be. I recently wrote a series of articles for Salsa about exploring the “dark areas” of a map. To me this tour epitomizes what riding a bike is all about. It is the freedom to explore under my own power. It doesn’t matter what my favorite trail or ride is because it is different for everyone. The Jay Petrevary’s of the world love the competition of being pushed to their limits and beyond. I enjoy striking out for the unknown on an adventure that involves more than just the bike. Ultimately, if you are having fun on your local trail or on a multi day epic, you are right where you should be.